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Sentence Modifiers

Words, phrases and clauses that modify entire clauses or sentences rather than single words

Some examples of sentence modifiers

Without a doubt, the election will be won by a major party candidate. John, to our astonishment, walked away from the plane crash unhurt. Perhaps Susan will take over the presidency. Allison, can you be here by ten a.m.? Oh wow, I never thought Id meet her!

Common Sentence Modifiers

Vocatives: nouns of direct address

Gentlemen, please start your engines!


Oh no, it cant be due tomorrow!

We went to Disney World yet again this springmy husbands worst nightmare! He danced his victory dance, his inevitable response to an Eagles touchdown.

Appositives (of an entire clause)

Note that many grammarians could see this NP his . . . touchdown as an appositive. This is a gray area!

Adverbs and Sentence Modifiers

Since verbs are the MOST IMPORTANT element in a clause, and since adverbs modify verbs, it can be difficult to draw a distinction between adverbs that clearly modify an entire clause, and those that only modify the verb in that clause Jane is clearly the best candidate.

clearly can modify the entire sentence.

We can finally see clearly now that the sun is fully risen.

clearly modifies the verb phrase can see

Some adverb clauses act as whole sentence modifiers

Adverb clauses introduced by if, since, as and although are usually whole sentence modifiers.

If you agree, Ill end the meeting early. We went to Spain on vacation, since it was the only destination on which we all agreed. As the bell rang, chaos erupted in the school. Ill join the party, although Id rather stay home.

Please note that all of these clauses are also arguably modifiers of the main clause verbs!

Absolute constructions (compare to ablative absolutes in Latin)

The absolute in English is a noun phrase that includes a post-noun modifier

an en or an ing participle

The train having been derailed, our journey was delayed. Her body shaking, she failed to fool the prison guards.

an adjective prepositional phrase

The dog by his side, he looked the picture of innocence.

Her dress a vision of beauty, Ann was married today.

a noun phrase

Second Amendment

A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed. [modern punctuation] right
people keep and bear arms

shall be infringed

Infinitive phrase pattern 6 and 7 / main clause passive 7

Broad reference relative clause

Found in speech; undesirable in formal written English.

She won the departmental honors, which angered everyone who knew she was a liar and a cheat.

which has no single noun antecedent in the main clause

Tim cleaned the bathroom, which made his roommates suspect that he had been stolen by aliens and replaced by an android.

Elliptical clauses with than and as

These are NOT sentence modifiers! Ann is tons smarter than her sister! . . . is

*Ann is tons smarter than her sister is smart! so you write: Ann is tons smarter than she!

Bob is as tall as Tim. . . . is

*Bob is as tall as Tim is tall. so you write: Bob is as tall as he. Peter also attended lessons, but John taught Mark better than him means John taught Mark better than John taught Peter. Peter also attended lessons, but John taught Mark better than he means John taught Mark better than Peter taught Mark.